“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” - Ernest Hemingway
Developing listening skills is crucial in communications. Back in the day, I used to come home every night from work, and “listen” to my husband talk about his job. Admittedly, I often “tuned him out” because I was bored and didn’t think that he had anything important to relay to me. That may sound cold or uncaring, but I had more important things, I thought, to focus on. If I would have listened to him, I would have realized that he was working in such a volatile situation and his job was actually in jeopardy. If I would have listened to him, I probably wouldn’t have been in such shock the night that he was “let go.”
Now that I am working for the same company that he is, whatever he says is very important and I pay attention to everything he says, his tone, body language and what he isn’t saying. Why? Because I have a vested interest.
It has been said that if you listen closely enough, you will learn a lot. And that is true. Everyone has something to say, but how many people actually listen to what you have to relate? It pays to be attentive and to listen.
When I was growing up, I remember times when I used to sit on the front porch with my Grandpa and he would tell me stories about his life and our family, and I paid attention and listened to every word. It was always intriguing and I learned so much, not only about him, but about my family.
I also remember the days when I worked for a certain company and we had quarterly update meetings. I was in my mid-twenties at the time and was bored to tears during these meetings. During most of these meeting, I didn’t listen to what was being relayed, but should have. Of course, I heard what was being said, but I didn’t listen to it.
I have given various examples regarding when we pay attention and when we perhaps do not. If something is interesting to us, naturally, we pay attention. And likewise, if we have an interest at stake, of course, we pay attention. However, if a topic is either boring or seemingly “unimportant,” we might not pay attention.
When I was younger, I was stupid for not paying attention during the aforementioned quarterly meetings. I should have listened more. Perhaps, I would have learned that the company was struggling and would not have been surprised when “downsizing” occurred.
Listening, however, is different from hearing. Not only do you hear what is being said, but you pay attention to body language, tone, and language used. It’s been written that “Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning.
“Most people tend to be ‘hard of listening’ rather than ‘hard of hearing.’”
If you pay attention to someone talking, you can learn so much from what they are and aren’t saying. Further, listening is a skill that lets you understand, interpret and put into meaning what you have heard.
Listening is a skill that needs to be refined. To become an active listener, you need to pay attention to the speaker. One way of doing this is by making eye contact, avoid being distracted, and pay attention to their body language.
You should also pay attention to your own body language, acknowledge what the speaker is relaying by nodding your head, smiling or using facial expressions, and by encouraging the speaker by using small comments, such as yes, or uh-huh.
To be an active listener, you should wait for the speaker to finish his or her points, and you should not interrupt with counter arguments. Interrupting the speaker is a waste of time and will most likely only frustrate the speaker. Ask questions when the speaker is done talking.
If you have a response to what the speaker has shared, you should be open and honest, assert your opinions in a respectful manner, and you should always treat the other person in the same manner as you would want to be treated.
By developing listening skills, you can build relationships. Take time to develop your listening skills, it is a very important aspect of communications.
Helen Roush is Vice President, Communications Sciences at Paperitalo Publications. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.